Mayor Curry Responds To Criticism On Opening Beaches, Announces Kooker Park Testing Site

Apr 20, 2020

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry responded to criticism on Monday that he’s faced since announcing the limited reopening of beaches and parks in Duval County.

“I'm not going to make decisions based on how I think critics outside of this city, or certain news outlets are going to react and talk about us,” Curry said.

Both Duval and St. Johns Counties reopened the beaches Friday on a limited basis for exercise activities such as walking, swimming and jogging, resulting in a backlash from some community members and media outlets outside the region.

In tweets over the weekend, Curry said national and international news outlets were running “sensationalist headlines with no understanding of our city.”  

“While it would be tempting for me to get into a back-and-forth with certain cable news outlets, I'm not going to go there,” Curry said Monday. 

Curry said he is in communication with local law enforcement and the mayors at the city’s beaches, and that the community is abiding by social distancing.

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

The mayor also said before opening beaches in Duval County, the foot traffic of exercisers on 1st St. - which runs parallel to the beach - was so crowded that they needed to break the crowds up. 

“This was a very measured opportunity to open more space out there where people were already moving around on 1st St.,” Curry said. 

Instead, Curry said the city needs to focus on increasing testing in the area. The number of positive tests compared to the total number of people tested is still hovering around 5%. 

He announced a new walk-up COVID-19 testing site that will open in Kooker Park later in the week. It will test up to 200 people per day. 

“This is important to assure that people in all parts of town from all backgrounds can get testing,” Curry said. 

Attributing analysis from Harvard University, Curry said the goal is to get the city testing 1,400 people per day. With the Lot J and Prime Osborn testing sites and upcoming test site at Kooker Park, along with available testing from local hospitals and medical facilities, Curry said Jacksonville will be able to test more than 1,500 people per day.

Roughly 17,000 tests have been conducted so far, according to the Duval County Emergency Operations Center.

Apart from the the limited reopening of beaches, Curry said he is set to announce a small team of community leaders who will help advise him regarding the reopening of the local economy. 

He is also waiting on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ statewide plan, and reviewing President Donald Trump’s guidelines for reopening that was published last week.

“No city or county is the same,” Curry said. “Whether it's in the state of Florida or in other places. So we'll take those guidelines, and then we'll tailor it to what makes the most sense for Jacksonville.”

Curry said the team will help him figure out how to get more testing, expedite city projects, and collaborate with large companies . 

Meanwhile, the city’s partnership with VyStar Credit Union to get loans and grants out to small businesses has allocated $11.5 million in funding across 326 loanees. 

“Each of these loans is helping businesses continue to run, keep people employed and putting food around family's tables,” Curry said. 

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department Director Keith Powers said 29 personnel are still not able to work because of self-quarantine. That’s under 2% of the department’s workforce. Tuesday, they’ll have 15 personnel returning to work. 

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office has seven employees who are self-quarantining, according to Sheriff Mike Williams. No prisoners have tested positive, but four are under observation for symptoms. 

Sky Lebron can be reached at slebron@wjct.org, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter at @SkylerLebron.